Updated: Jul 8, 2020
On the 16th of March 8,000, Swiss militia members were mobilised to help combat the threat of Covid-19. These individuals were called up while currently carrying out, or had previously completed, their national service. Imagine what we in the UK could’ve achieved if we had 8,000 extra people trained and ready to call upon in times of crisis to reinforce our pre-existing organisations.
That is but one reason why it is time we reintroduced national service in the UK. Not as it was before, but one that is modern, flexible, and capable to work to the benefit of everyone.
Until 1957 all men and women in the UK aged 18 to 51, with some exceptions, were eligible to be called upon to serve in various capacities. We can look to the successes and mistakes made then, and to nations that continue to call on their young people to serve, to ensure that any form of national service in the UK would work for everyone.
Now, of course, not everyone can, nor will want to, be in the forces. I assume that there would be nothing worse than dealing with some stroppy 20-something refusing to follow orders. By providing civilian alternatives this issue could easily be rectified. Rather than forcing everyone to stand to attention, allow young people to serve as a volunteer firefighter, with the NHS, in care homes or elsewhere within their communities. The Swiss have allowed their young people to carry out civilian service since 1997 to tremendous triumph.
On top of this, the creation of a proper and well-trained civil defence service staffed with those carrying out their national service would be one of many perfect alternatives to the armed forces. During times of crisis - such as the ongoing pandemic, floods and any other disaster - having the ability to quickly call up additional support that wouldn’t need to be at operational readiness 24/7 would drastically improve our ability to respond to any such events. An organisation such as this could also easily include those who have completed their national service by drafting them in to help if the situation required it.
We must also ensure that this system wouldn’t impact the opportunities that young people have but rather compliments them. The Swiss model allows for flexibility for those that choose to go on to higher education. Any system adopted here should do the same, either by allowing service to be postponed or completed around an individual’s studies.
Now the more money-conscious readers will be surely be frothing at the mouth about how much such a system will cost or what form compensation would take. Through a weekly allowance to tax breaks for participants, or encouraging voluntary work, we could find a plethora of solutions to this. However, how can we really put a cost on ensuring that this country has a capable and skilled population that is ready to step up to any challenge when needed?
The benefits of introducing national service go far beyond simply helping the greater population. National service would address a myriad of issues that currently plague this country. It would provide a safety net for those that leave school with no qualifications by offering them new skills that they would not have learned at school or potentially help them to discover a new career path previously unconsidered. It would help prevent vulnerable people from taking the wrong path and entering a life of crime by instilling a sense of discipline and self-worth. With the rise of knife and gang crime across the country the impact national service could have on remedying these issues would be immeasurable.
Furthermore, when you hear about the outrageous reality that one in six Brits don’t mix with people outside their own social class. Or that nearly half don’t even know someone of a different race. The benefits of bringing people from across the country, from all backgrounds, together become crystal clear.
So, for a skilled, safer, and more cohesive country, we must bring back national service. Doing so will ultimately ensure that everyone in this country leaves school and begins their life with a positive destination.